Saturday, 22 February 2014

Bishop Aloysius Versiglia - Proto-martyr of the Salesian Congregation

Aloysius Versiglia was the first salesian bishop who was martyred in the mission land.  He was born at Oliva Gessi, Pavia, Italy and entered the Valdocco Oratory at the age of 12. Inspired by the Don Bosco Aloysius wanted to follow him and thus received the religious habit at the hands of Blessed Michael Rua on 21 October 1888.  Subsequently he made his first profession on 11 October 1889.  As a religious he was outstanding in virtues. He edified others more by his example than by his words.  He was ordained a priest on 21 December 1895 by Mgr. Richelmy, Bishop of Ivrea. It the very first year of his priesthood he was sent as Rector and Director of the Novices at Genzano.  The young Rector solved all his difficulties not with his authority but with prayer, penance and silence.  Much later, the salesians who were formed under him spoke highly of their beloved Rector with nostalgic feelings.

He was chosen to lead the missionary expedition to China in 1905. The missionaries reached Hong Kong after six months of sailing. Very soon he sent a report to the generalate about the growing mission in China.  His tireless work in the mission land crowned him with the Episcopal title.  He became the bishop of Shiu Chow.  As a bishop his priority was the work of evangelization at the same time he also concentrated on expanding the salesian works. He also gave sound formation to his diocese.  Even as a bishop he had to face lot of difficulties like civil war, poverty in the mission station, paucity of personnel and misunderstanding with the major superiors.  In spite of all these hardships he was dazzling with virtues like his Eucharistic piety, filial devotion to Mary help of Christians, his humility, missionary zeal and so on.

The holy bishop travelled with Fr. Caravario and some catechists on a boat on a pastoral visit to the Linchow mission on 25 February 1930.  When the boat was at the confluence of the rivers Sui Pin and Siu Pak Kong all of a sudden 10 armed men (Communist Pirates) appeared and seized the three catechists who were on the missionaries’ boat after looting the valuable things.  The bishop and Fr. Caravario opposed them with all their strength to defend the safety and the virtue of the three young Christian women.  At last, these two clergymen were beaten and were shot at.  The catholics of the place took the corpses and did the funeral rites.  Pope Paul VI recognized their martyrdom in 1973.  Finally, Bl. John Paul II numbered them among the Blessed on 15 May 1983 and canonized them on 1 October 2000.            

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